When defensive tackle Justin Harrell took the field last Sunday, it had been 12 months and 21 days since he had played in a regular-season game, and it felt every bit that long to the 2007 first-round draft pick.
"You never want to sit on the sideline," said Harrell, whose last meaningful game action came for the University of Tennessee, on Sept. 16, 2006, against the Florida Gators before having surgery on his torn bicep. "Being a competitor, you want to go out there and try to help your team win. With all the success the team was getting, you know you're a part of it but you really don't feel like you're a part of it until you're out there doing things."
Harrell got off to a slow start in training camp, coming back from the injury, and he was inactive the first four weeks of the season. He made his debut in the defensive tackle rotation against the Bears last Sunday and was solid, though unspectacular.
Harrell played nine snaps on defense and provided a good push at the point of attack on at least some of them. He beat his blocker to bring down running back Cedric Benson for a 1-yard loss on his only tackle.
"He stayed square," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "I thought he got off to a good start for his first time out. He's just going to get better with reps. It was good to have him in there."
At this point Harrell will take as many reps as the coaching staff will give him. He feels healthy, in shape, and ready to make an impact.
"It's one of those things where you're getting your feet under you, just getting used to playing football," he said. "Football is all about rhythm. The more you're out there, the more plays you're getting, the more comfortable you're getting."
McCarthy wouldn't say whether Harrell would be active again this week, or if he's solidified any sort of role in the defensive tackle rotation. Colin Cole was active the first four weeks before being inactive last Sunday after sustaining a slight concussion in practice, and rookie Daniel Muir has been inactive every game thus far.
"It's hard to tell," Harrell said. "It's so unpredictable with the injuries. You don't know how the coaches are really thinking. You just have to go out on the practice field and prepare like you're going to play and hopefully on Sunday I'll be up again.
"I've just learned to take advantage of every opportunity I get because you never know when they're going to come again. That's just the way I look at it."
Eager to return
Quarterback Brett Favre said he's spoken to Koren Robinson a couple of times in the past two weeks, and he says the wide receiver is ready to come back. Robinson, who was suspended for one year last October for violation of the league's substance-abuse policy, is eligible for reinstatement next week.
"Everything seems to be going great for him, and that's fantastic," Favre said. "He's eager to get back and says he's in tremendous shape."
Robinson was signed by the Packers in Week 2 last season and played in four games before his suspension was handed down. It was related to various off-the-field incidents prior to his coming to Green Bay.
Favre said Robinson told him he's "anxiously awaiting" the opportunity to speak face-to-face with commissioner Roger Goodell to show that he has dealt with his problems and deserves another chance to play.
"I'm a little bit biased, obviously, but I think he's done everything he's been asked to do, and it's time to set a good example that you can resurrect not only your career but your life," said Favre, who has empathized to a certain extent with Robinson because of some off-the-field issues of his own earlier in his career.
"There's still a lot left for him to do on and off the field, but give the guy an opportunity. I hope it works out for us here, I do. Once again, selfishly speaking, he can help us, but more importantly in my conversations with him it sounds like he's doing outstanding off the field."
Last season, Robinson caught seven passes for 89 yards and returned 12 kickoffs for the Packers. He posted a 1,200-yard receiving season for Seattle back in 2002, his second in the league after being the ninth overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft.
If Robinson is able to rejoin the Packers, Favre sees him as a legitimate threat in the spread formation with the empty backfield the offense has used successfully thus far in 2007.
"He was born to play football," Favre said. "He understands the game, understands how to set guys up, how to run routes.
"If we want to give five wide receivers, we've proven that we can go empty. It gives us another dimension of stretching the field. Do we put him in right away and is he capable of 20 catches? I seriously doubt it, but I wouldn't put it past him."
Washington Redskins center Casey Rabach, a native of nearby Sturgeon Bay, Wis., will play the first snaps of his career at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
Rabach, who's in his seventh year out of the University of Wisconsin, was a third-round draft choice by the Baltimore Ravens in 2001, but he didn't play at all his rookie season, which was when the Ravens played in Green Bay.
He joined the Redskins in 2005 and has started every game at center for them since.
"To us, he means a lot," Washington coach Joe Gibbs said. "He's very smart. Ever since he's been here he's kind of been one of our leaders over there. He makes our calls. He kind of understands everything. He's a bright, sharp guy who's meant a lot to us since we got him."
Two Packers are listed as out on the week's first injury report - cornerback Will Blackmon (foot) and center Scott Wells (eye).
Seven players were limited participants in practice on Wednesday, but McCarthy didn't express concern about any of them being unavailable. The limited participants were offensive tackle Chad Clifton (knee), tight end Bubba Franks (knee), cornerbacks Al Harris (back) and Charles Woodson (foot), receiver Greg Jennings (shoulder), defensive end Michael Montgomery (knee) and running back Vernand Morency (team decision).
McCarthy said even though Jennings is not entirely in the clear with regards to his hamstring injury, the shoulder strain is the greater concern this week. Jennings missed a portion of last week's game to get X-rays on his shoulder in the locker room, but those were negative and he returned to the game. The plan is to hold Jennings from full participation in practice until Friday.
"You talk to Greg, he feels like he's going to be fine," McCarthy said. "We'll see how he goes Friday."
Rookie running back Brandon Jackson is not listed on the injury report after missing the last two games with a shin injury. McCarthy said Jackson was the scout team running back in practice on Wednesday and seemed to do fine.
"I feel ready," Jackson said. "But it's up to (the coaches) to decide if I'm going to play this Sunday."